10. Hi Infidelity - REO Speedwagon (opens in new tab)
What made REO Speedwagon (opens in new tab)’s ninth album their first US No.1 were two hits delivering an iron fist in a velvet glove.
For all the melodic uplift in the ballad Keep On Loving You (also US No.1) and the rockier Take It On The Run, the lyrics spoke of love as war. Classic songs, quintessential AOR.
Must hear: Keep On Loving You
9. Everybody’s Crazy - Michael Bolton (opens in new tab)
Before the transformation into superstar soul singer and Mullet King, Michael Bolton rocked.
With a voice so powerful that he once auditioned for Black Sabbath, he delivered in Everybody’s Crazy a melodic rock tour de force, with the anthem Save Our Love and the power ballad Call My Name its devastating emotional peaks.
Must hear: Save Our Love
8. Raised On Radio - Journey (opens in new tab)
The last record Journey made with Steve Perry during his initial and most important time in the band, Raised On Radio is an artistic high point that for many surpasses even Escape and Frontiers in terms of songwriting and performance.
Perry’s grip on Raised On Radio is evident: it is a masterclass that cemented him as a vocalist without equal.
Must hear: Girl Can’t Help It
7. Dawn Patrol - Night Ranger (opens in new tab)
With twin-guitar firepower, two great singers and killer songs, Night Ranger (opens in new tab)’s Dawn Patrol was the best American rock debut since Van Halen’s.
A signature sound was defined by the blazing energy of Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and the melodic finesse of Sing Me Away. The record’s unsung hero was geeky keyboard ninja Alan ‘Fitz’ Gerald.
Must hear: Don’t Tell Me You Love Me
6. Toto IV - Toto (opens in new tab)
1982 was the year that Toto ruled the world. Crack session musicians and hit songwriters, they were heavily involved in what became the biggest-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Their own album Toto IV was huge too, selling millions via its smash hit singles Rosanna (opens in new tab), I Won’t Hold You Back and Africa. A soft-rock behemoth – critics be damned!
Must hear: Africa
5. Frontiers - Journey (opens in new tab)
If ever there was a hard act to follow, it was Escape, the all-conquering masterpiece that had made Journey the biggest rock act in America. But when the heat was on, Journey (opens in new tab) didn’t falter.
What they delivered with Frontiers was another multi-platinum hit, another classic. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), the album’s opening track, is the ultimate heavy melodic rock anthem, its dramatic tone set in Jonathan Cain’s neon-bright keyboard intro, the band blasting at full power, and Steve Perry hitting high notes and a deep emotional intensity that made him the greatest singer of his generation.
Faithfully is the definitive power ballad, with Perry’s voice again at its absolute peak. Edge Of The Blade is arguably Journey’s heaviest song. The title track, tricksy and unconventional, has a flavour of early-80s Rush. And After The Fall and Send Her My Love are two more supreme ballads from the undisputed masters of the art. Most extraordinary of all is that this brilliant album could have been even better.
In a bizarre decision, two glorious songs, Only The Young and Ask The Lonely, did not make the cut. And while one substitution in their place was the wonderfully atmospheric Troubled Child, the other, Back Talk, was a complete turkey, perhaps the worst song the band ever recorded, and the one flaw in what was otherwise a work of genius.
Must hear: Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
4. Vital Signs - Survivor (opens in new tab)
In 1983, just a year after Survivor hit big with Eye Of The Tiger (opens in new tab), the band were in deep shit. Singer Dave Bickler, suffering from damaged vocal cords, got through the next album, Caught In The Game, but his exit from Survivor followed quickly. For Bickler it was heartbreaking, for the band a potential career killer.
As keyboard player Jim Peterik said: “Very few bands survive a lead singer transplant.” But what they found in Jimi Jamison was a guy with a one-in-a-million voice. And what Survivor created in Vital Signs, their first album with Jamison, was a comeback hit and the pinnacle of the band’s career.
“Jimi had the most magical voice I’ve ever heard,” Peterik said. Equally, Jamison was gifted some of the greatest songs ever written by Peterik and guitarist Frankie Sullivan: glorious anthems I Can’t Hold Back and It’s The Singer Not The Song, and the masterful ballad The Search Is Over.
Of the latter, Peterik recalled: “To hear Jimi sing the shit out of it, I knew it was a hit.” Vital Signs was the album on which Survivor reached their creative peak, and Jamison delivered the greatest performance of his life. As Peterik said after the singer’s death in 2014: “Jimi was one of the greats.”
Must hear: I Can’t Hold Back
3. 4 - Foreigner (opens in new tab)
Inspired by producer Mutt Lange’s work with City Boy, Foreigner invited him to help their revised band find their feet. Although Lange could be notoriously difficult, “we were lucky to catch Mutt before he became completely maniacal,” guitarist Mick Jones once told Classic Rock.
Juke Box Hero, Urgent and Woman In Black vindicated this decision, the sleek ballad Waiting For A Girl Like You whetting most of the group’s appetite for more of the same.
Must hear: Juke Box Hero
2. Boston - Boston (opens in new tab)
The album made by boffin Tom Scholz in his basement was the biggest-selling debut of all time until Appetite For Destruction (opens in new tab) a decade later.
During the making of his masterpiece, over five long years, Tom Scholz led a dual life. Between shifts as a design engineer for Polaroid, he’d be locked away in his home studio in Boston (opens in new tab). “It was my escape from the world,” he said. But the music he created would find an audience of millions.
All but one track of Boston’s debut album was created in Scholz’s basement. It’s a classic, landmark album, immaculately crafted and full of great songs: Peace Of Mind, Smokin’, the epic Foreplay/Long Time and, greatest of all, More Than A Feeling, Boston’s definitive statement and one of the beautiful rock songs ever written, its emotional intensity heightened by the majestic wail of singer Brad Delp.
Must hear: More Than A Feeling
1. Journey - Escape
AOR’s shimmering and colossal peak, Escape may have its edges dulled by the familiarity of its best-known songs, yet that should not detract from the album’s majesty. It pulls together everything that is glorious and important about the genre and distills it sublimely.
They may have unkindly christened Steve Perry ‘the duck’ after some of those high notes, but the critics are simply eating his dirt.
History has been kind to Escape. As far back as 1988 the readers of Kerrang! voted it AOR’s greatest album, and there it remains, probably in perpetuity.
But beyond the confines of genre it has enjoyed an afterlife bathed in nostalgia for the version of American youth that it captured, a time long gone except in the memory. There, Escape lives.
Must hear: Don’t Stop Believin’